Review: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling

There was a weird feeling while reading the second volume of Delilah Dirk. I was hit with the sensation that it had been a long while since I read the first volume and yet once I started reading it felt like yesterday. It has actually been a few years since we last read the adventures of Delilah Dirk, but creator Tony Cliff has delivered a second volume that’s twice the size of first volume so I’m inclined to be really, really happy about that. In the first volume followed Erdemoglu Selim’s story as his path crossed Delilah Dirk’s and he was swept up in her adventure. This time around he remains our narrator which is interesting in the fact that we’re still not privy to Delilah’s thoughts, but Mister Selim continues to be our insight into their adventures. It’s a very Sherlock and Watson type partnership in that Dirk is always the star and her actions guide the plot, but Selim gives us the inner narration that drives the heart of the story.

The actual actions of the book, ie the things that Dirk and Selim physically go about are well-plotted and layered with consideration for the beginning and the end. Every seemingly small action actually builds into the larger story. But that’s not what the actually story is about. In the first book the story was about adventure, friendship and trust. Selim had to place his trust in Dirk’s hands more than once and he essentially needed to learn how to trust her. In this second volume, trust is still the theme. This time around though it’s Dirk that must learn to trust Selim.

After a mission in Portugal that saw a family reunited, Dirk and Selim attempt to leave the area that is being torn apart by a war between the British and the French. A British unit stumbles upon them and due to Dirk’s and the Major’s personalities clashing, Dirk ends up arrested and Selim on his own. This all leads to Dirk’s eventually return to England to clear her good name that the Major has taken to badmouthing after framing her for treason. That in turn reveals her double life that she’s neglected to tell Selim about. We’ve had plenty of hints about this so it’s not a surprise to the reader, but Selim is blindsided by it especially after he convinces her to go home and finds the reception to be less than amazing… for him. This is the other big theme of the story, Dirk (whose real name I won’t spoil) must battle between her two lives until she comes to a crossroad and must pick one or the other.

Frankly, the story is better than the first volume which is really difficult to admit. I found the first volume to be incredible. It was probably the second or third title from First Second that I had read and it was so incredible that I read it twice in the same day. And then twice more the next day. After reading this volume, I have no idea how many times I’ll end up reading it, but I definitely want to marathon through both volumes back to back. Though it’s morning when you read this, it’s past midnight as I write this review so I simply don’t have the time to read it again today.

Delilah Dirk and the King’s ShillingIn the back of the volume Cliff makes mention that this is historical fiction and that he hopes that his inaccuracies didn’t spoil the story. For me, it did not. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would think that if you’re picking up this story that started off with a flying ship that you’d expect some inaccuracies. In a way I really like the fictional history that Cliff has made. I’d rather see a compilation of events that Dirk and Selim could venture through rather than have them be limited by actual history. Part of the charm is that their adventures take them to a verity of locations and those locations always seem to have something going on.

As for Cliff’s writing. He’s definitely grown because as I said this volume is better than the first, but still very much in line with the first. It’s a subtle growth as a storyteller. He still relies on his art to do the heavy lifting of the story (which is a good thing), but he trusts his dialogue a lot more in this volume. On that note, his dialogue sucks you in. There were more than a few instances in which there was half a panel of dialogue, but it read so quickly and naturally that you’ll read it in a quick instant rather than it feeling like a chore or worse hindering the story.

It’s impossible to talk about Delilah Dirk without talking about the art because it makes everything possible. By that I mean that as good as the story and as good as the dialogue, without the art they’re nothing. Cliff’s art style is simply amazing. He is one of the best illustrators in the industry and I only wish that there were more Dirk stories to read and enjoy this instant. Art like that, that makes you crave it so much that you’ll hunt the internet for every trace of it is a powerful and wonderful thing.

Everything is impressive, from the character designs, from the natural body shapes that he instills in the story from beginning to end, to the incredible set pieces. I only wish that more incredible settings and architecture were illustrated in this volume, but what is here is stunning and detailed. In particular, the opening in Portugal is breathtaking. It’s beyond picturesque if there is such a thing. It’s so wonderful to look at that I think that real life would be disappointing if you were to take in similar scenes.

While Cliff’s pencil work is detailed, stunning and overall amazing, his coloring is even better. His coloring is by far the best in the business because again it’s better than real life. I don’t think you’ll find scenes in nature as beautiful without an amazing camera and a skilled photographer. The coloring is one of the things from the first volume that stayed with me and it’s only gotten better here. Aside from the opening there’s a scene at night in London that was extremely cinematic. It really reminded me of movies set in the same era and it was just absolutely the best choice for the scene because it played off that familiar feeling while staying true to the story.

While it may seem strange to close out this review talking about the lettering I feel I need to because I think that Cliff uses one of the best fonts for this book. I can’t place it which is a good thing, but it gives the book so much personality. It’s easy to read and somehow matches the era in a strange and unexplainable way. It also goes to show just how damn talented Cliff is that he does every aspect of this series on his own.

In all seriousness you don’t need to read the first volume of Delilah Dirk to enjoy, appreciate and be entertained by this volume. Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t read it because it is an incredible work on its own, but if this is your first exposure to Delilah Dirk then you shouldn’t be afraid to jump in right here. The reason being that every other original graphic novel to be released in 2016 must find a way to be better than Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling and that’s nearly an impossible task. Why? Because this book is better than everything else I read last year… and we’re in March of this year. Good luck. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to re-read all of Delilah Dirk and get my fix of the best female lead in comics.

Score: 5/5

Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling Creator: Tony Cliff Publisher: First Second Books Price: $17.99 Release Date: 3/9/16 Format: OGN; Print